Mothers and Daughters

19th Century Mothers and Daughters

6 women pioneers
“It is difficult to know exactly how many Black women migrated to Vancouver Island; this lack of visibility is due in part to their classification in the historical record only as wives, mothers and daughters.” Sherry Edmunds-Flett

Nancy and Lucretia Alexander: On July 1, 1858 the Alexanders boarded the ship “Oregon” for Vancouver Island. Lucretia is the 5th child, 3rd daughter, born in 1861. She grew up in a loving, respected and active family; at the age of 25 she married William Mortimer of New Westminster and raised 8 children. In July 1995 the Alexander family gathered for a reunion in Victoria. More than 400 descendants have been documented; over 200 descendants came from across Canada and the United States for the 1995 reunion; today many descendants live in BC.

Maria and Harriet Gibbs: Maria graduated from Oberlin College in 1854. She then taught school in Philadelphia. In 1859 she married Mifflin Gibbs and moved to Victoria. Maria had all their children, 4 boys and 2 girls, here in Victoria. Ida, the youngest daughter completed her college education at Oberlin College in 1884, receiving both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English. Harriet (shown), began her study of music at the age of nine. In 1889, Harriet became the first African-American woman to graduate from Oberlin Conservatory with a degree in music.

Sylvia and Emma Stark: Sylvia was born into slavery in Clay County Missouri in 1839. Sylvia taught herself to read. “When the master’s children did their homework, she would listen. When they went out to play she would practice by herself. Her master would have been very angry if she had known as it was against the law to teach a slave.” Marie Stark Wallace. Emma was born in California on February 17, 1856; she was four years old when her family settled on Salt Spring Island. Completing high school; on August 1, 1874 at the age of 18, Emma was the first teacher to be hired for the one-room school in the Cedar district near Nanaimo; she was now the first Black teacher on Vancouver Island.

“A Home for Our Children in the Right Place”

Through their labour – inside and outside of the home, their social and benevolent activities as well as religious involvement, the women of the African Canadian community built better lives for themselves and their children.”

“Through case studies of first generation women who migrated to Vancouver Island between the years 1858 and 1860 …. the province’s African Canadian women existed at the intersection of gender, race and class in the nineteenth century.”

“These were younger women, with a majority under the age of 35 years, either girls who had come with their families… or young married women who emigrated with their husbands. A handful … were in their late thirties or early forties with only four women over 50 years of age.”
Sherry Edmunds-Flett

Sherry graduated from Queen’s University in 1982 with a BA Honours in Sociology. Her graduate degrees include: a Masters in African Area Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (1988) and doctoral candidate status in History from Simon Fraser University. In 2012 Sherry was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Champion of Diversity by the Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards in 2017. Sherry is a lifetime member of the Association of Black Women Historians, a member of the Black Canadian Studies Association, and a member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

20th Century Trailblazers and Icons

Rosemary BrownEleanor Collins, C.M.Barbara HowardRuby Sneed
Rosemary Brown Commemorative StampEleanor Collins, C.M.Barbara HowardRuby Sneed
The first woman of African descent to serve in a provincial legislature in Canada. She was elected in 1972 and served until 1986. In 1975 she ran for the leadership of the Federal NDP Party. Canada Post Commemorative Stamp 2009.More than a century of Black History - November 21, 1919 - March 3, 2024. The first woman in Canada and the first artist of colour in North America to host her own national-weekly television music variety show in 1954.  BC Black History Awareness Society is deeply saddened by the recent death of Eleanor Collins, C.M.; and grateful that we were witness to her remarkable life.
Photo by: Ghassan Shanti.
The first Black woman to represent Canada in an international athletic competition (Empire Games, Australia, February 1938) and the first person from a visible minority to be hired by the Vancouver School Board. Photo: Creative Commons License.Renowned Classical Pianist and Music Educator. In 1972 she undertook a work study in Japan under Dr. Shinichi Suzuki and later developed the first Suzuki Piano Program in western Canada at the Vancouver Music Academy.
Photo Courtesy of Theresa Lewis.

Read the full stories of the women featured in this article.
*Nancy Alexander *Rosemary Brown *Eleanor Collins *Harriet Gibbs-Marshall *Ida Gibbs-Hunt *Barbara Howard *Ruby Sneed *Emma Stark *Sylvia Stark

Credits and Reference Materials:
Sherry Edmunds-Flett. Thesis “History of African Canadian women in British Columbia from 1858-1938”.
Mothers and Daughters:
Gallery compiled by BC Black History Awareness Society
Nancy Alexander: Image A-01068 Courtesy of Royal BC Museum and Archives
Lucretia Alexander: Image M01015 Courtesy of City of Victoria Archives
Maria Gibbs: Courtesy of Association for the Study of African American Life and History; and Crawford
Kilian, Author “Go Do Some Great Thing: The Black Pioneers of British Columbia”.
Harriet Gibbs: Public Domain
Sylvia and Emma Stark: Courtesy of Myrtle Holloman, Salt Spring Island, B.C. & Peggy Cartwight
20th Century Trailblazers and Icons:
Rosemary Brown: Canada Post Commemorative Stamps.
Eleanor Collins: Photo by: Ghassan Shanti, Courtesy of Judith Maxie
Barbara Howard: “Barbara Howard is being inducted @BCSportsHall in the Pioneer category. She is a LEGEND!” by miss604 licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Ruby Sneed: Courtesy of Theresa Lewis